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Dustin's Review

Attack the Block  (2011)
1 Stars
Directed by Joe Cornish.
Cast: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, Leeon Jones, Nick Frost, Simon Howard, Alex Esmail, Jumayn Hunter, Franz Drameh, Sammy Williams, Michael Ajao, Paige Meade, Maggie McCarthy, Danielle Vitalis, Natasha Jonas, Saffron Lashley, Gina Antwi.
2011 – 88 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence, drug content and pervasive language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 27, 2011.
Wherever "Attack the Block" goes, it seems to win acclaim, beginning in March 2011 at Austin's SXSW Festival (where it won the special midnight award) and at June's Los Angeles Film Festival (where it nabbed the audience award for best narrative feature). The film, a low-budget sci-fi/comedy from Britain that some critics have favorably compared to such '80s classics as "Gremlins" and "The Goonies," was ultimately picked up for stateside distribution by Screen Gems and must now rely on good word-of-mouth to draw in audiences as it slowly opens around the country. Having seen the film, its, thus far, critical praise is enough to truly confound. Indeed, putting this movie in the same sentence—nay, paragraph—as "Gremlins" and "The Goonies" is verging on sacrelige. Outside of its sheer homegrown admirability and resourcefulness, "Attack the Block" is charmless, juvenile, too self-satisfied by a half, and finally despicable in the wrongheaded thematic messages it sends out at the end. Too goofy to be frightening and too lame to be funny or amusing, the picture ultimately turns into an interminable waste of time.

It's Guy Fawkes' Day in South London and, as residents celebrate in the distance and shoot off fireworks overhead, nurse Sam's (Jodie Whittaker) lonesome walk back to her flat after work is interrupted when a group of teenage thugs, led by Moses (John Boyega), mug her. Their careless criminal mischief is cut short when something shoots down from the sky and destroys a nearby car. A creature emerges and is finally killed by the gang, but the story is far from over. While hanging at drug dealer Ron's (a wasted Nick Frost) place, down come several more unidentifiable balls of light, each one carrying with it a furry, ferocious, black-maned alien in search of the female being Moses killed. Troublemakers with a newfound purpose, the kids seek shelter at Sam's flat and are soon teaming up with their former victim to defend their apartment complex from invaders from outer space.

"Attack the Block" is overrun by extraterrestrials that look like gorillas with flourescent teeth, but the film is also swarming with terrible ideas and flat execution. It's best, then, to start positive. The list will be short. The music score by Steven Price is weird and cool, a combo of urban, techno, and '80s synthesizer beats that might have lent something special to a better picture. The aliens themselves, pulled off mostly with practical effects (a nice change of pace, admittedly), are inventively designed and not just a rehash of slimy, hairless, typical sci-fi conceptions. The use of slow-motion during a climactic chase sequence is also effective, giving the audience a long, clear and rather impressive look at the alien in relation to the human protagonist it viciously pursues.

The rest of "Attack the Block?" It's far from pretty. Writer-director Joe Cornish should be complimented for tackling such a project and finishing it with so few financial means. Once that brief congratulatory period is over, he deserves the brunt of the blame since he is the sole person credited to the slapdash direction and one-note turkey of a screenplay. The first mistake is in setting up his "heroes" as hooded, thieving, bullying hooligans who don't steal because they have to—all of them are established as having homes and ammenities—but because they can. Once they've cruelly snatched people's money and most cherished keepsakes, they then take them to buy lots and lots of weed. Already Moses and his dumb-ass cronies are hateful, and they more or less stay that way for the duration of the film, the characters' snarky, would-be hip one-liners unable to mask Cornish's negligence in developing them or getting to know who they really are. Revealing that Moses lives with his uncle, who is out of town a lot, doesn't adequately explain away his actions, and it's close to offensive that the film even tries to pull that card. Poor Sam is the sole character with any self-respect, but little is learned about her, either.

Thick British accents and slang-filled language, it turns out, can sound just as lazy and uneducated as improper American grammar. Save, again, for Sam, everyone talks the same way—a mile a minute, laden with smart-allecky inflections and the odd pop-culture reference that will pass its sell-by date next year. When they're not running from aliens who propmptly invade the building they are in, the movie's pacing stops dead for a lot of sitting around and trading barbs. Multiple scenes rely solely on characters smoking up to garner laughs—they don't—while punchlines are so lead-footed it's almost like writer-director Joe Cornish set out to create awful jokes. "Easy peasy," says pint-sized punk Probs, to which his partner-in-crime Mayhem replies, "Lemon squeezy." In another scene, upon an elevator opening up to reveal blood and carnage surrounding him, a character dead-pans to another person waiting to board, "Better get the next one." And, yes, someone does use the phrase, "All that shizzle." Are we busting a gut yet?

Two jump scares feature the only apprehension found in "Attack the Block," and in both instances, that feeling is over once the jolt is. Otherwise, the film is far too loose and light to render anything creepy. Many, in fact, will be too busy groaning from the last moronic gag to even get involved enough to let it work as horror. With an ensemble of primarily vacant-minded twits and slackers who are barely distinguishable and never amiable filling the screen, "Attack the Block" becomes a long slog even at 88 minutes. The last straw, appropriately, arrives in the final scene, wherein Moses risks his life not for others, but for the recognition he'll no doubt receive by acting brave. Again, even as he saves the day, he's really being selfish. It's all about him, and he's reaffirmed of this delusion by the neighborhood people who suddenly view him as a savior as they chant his none-too-subtle name, "Moses! Moses! Moses!" It's enough to roll an eye right out of one's own skull. Whatever appeal "Attack the Block" might have for some viewers is totally lost on me. This is subpar on nearly every level.
© 2011 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman